FOR a president who made much of the supposed impunity and poor regard for human rights under the administration of his predecessor, the recent statements issued by two United Nations human rights experts on the tragic circumstances of the Lumad community in Mindanao should be a shocking and painful embarrassment.
Of course, not every president has the same unassailable belief in his own superior righteousness as President BS Aquino 3rd, so perhaps his complete indifference to the issue should not surprise anybody.
In a formal statement posted on the website of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Special Rapporteur on HR, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, and Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst said, “Military occupation of civilian institutions and killing of civilians, particularly in places such as schools which should remain safe havens for children from this type of violence, are unacceptable, deplorable and contrary to international human rights and international humanitarian standards.” The two HR watchdogs went on to say that the world body had “serious concerns about the increasingly pervasive insecurity and rising unlawful killings of human rights activists in the conflict-prone regions of the Philippines.”
Forst also urged the Aquino government to honor his “repeated requests”—obviously indicating that the “straight path” the President has so far actively refused to risk international scrutiny—to visit the country to see for himself the environment in which human rights defenders are obliged to work.
The statements of Tauli-Corpuz and Forst were also endorsed by the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns.
An appalling human rights problem
When three top officials of the UN body responsible for defending human rights express alarm at the prevailing circumstances, that is a serious problem. That needs to be made crystal-clear to President Aquino, because he is apparently unaware that with the issuance of the officials’ statements he has just taken the first few steps on a very different tuwid na daan, one that leads straight to becoming an international pariah.
The plight of the Lumads, who have suffered from a less-than-subtle program of pogrom, persecution, displacement, and the forced closure and occupation of schools and other community facilities culminating in the September 1 murder of three Lumad community leaders, reportedly at the hands of a paramilitary group under the supervision of the Philippine Army, is only the latest chapter in a frankly appalling human rights record under our current president.
From his callous handling of relatively small incidents like the Manila tourist bus massacre, to large-scale calamities like Typhoon Yolanda and the Zamboanga siege (the recent anniversary of which his “anointed successor” Mar Roxas had the exceedingly poor taste to mark it by offering congratulations to the people of that fair city), to inexplicably shocking incidents like abandoning the SAF to be slaughtered at Mamasapano, and to blaming the victims for the never-ending string of media killings, Aquino has demonstrated nothing but contempt for us Filipinos. His continuing stubborn refusal to allow the UN to do its work only confirms that contempt.
Perhaps at this point, the only way forward is for the UN not to give him a choice. If he continues to ignore demands for proper investigation and accountability, the UNHCR should raise the matter to the UN Security Council, which has the power to compel cooperation through various means. We Filipinos are, for the greater part, a compassionate and justice-minded people; we will not accept becoming a pariah nation for the sake of one arrogant man’s inability or unwillingness to display basic empathy and human values.
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Erratum on UMA. In our editorial on Thursday September 24, we incorrectly used the words “NDF-affiliated” to describe the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura. UMA is not an affiliate of the National Democratic Front (NDF). But it works closely with other progressive people’s organizations in the Philippines such as the militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP, Peasant Movement of the Philippines), Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU, May First Movement), and other organizations affiliated with the umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN, New Patriotic Alliance).